As the weather warms up, folks want to be outside more and even dine al fresco. The ever-popular charcuterie board is great for picnics, dinner on the deck or a patio happy hour.
It’s surprisingly easy to assemble your own board with grocery store ingredients that cost less than you might think. In fact, you can make a crowd pleasing tray full of cured meats, cheese and complementary snacking accompaniments for less than $30.
How to Make a Meat and Cheese Board on a Budget
Meat and cheese boards are super easy to make.
The staples for a proper charcuterie board are cured meats with cheese options, plus a selection of dried or fresh fruits, nuts, crackers, spreads, olives and pickled vegetables. Think of it as a glorified snack tray and choose what appeals to you.
Here’s a shopping list of essentials from Aldi, but you can also find a great selection of affordable options at Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Sam’s Club.
Aldi Charcuterie Shopping List
|1 16-ounce jar kosher baby dill pickles
|1 jar Spanish Manzanilla green olives
|1 box garlic chiva pita crackers
|1 French baguette
|1 8-ounce package of hard salami
|1 4-ounce package of prosciutto
|1/2 pound red grape
|1 16-ounce box strawberries
|1 10-ounce jar blackberry fruit spread
|1 8-ounce block apple smoked gouda
|1 8-ounce Brie round
|1 4-ounce goat cheese log
This much food will easily serve 10 people, with extra for replenishing the board.
If you’re really in a rush and on a budget grab Aldi’s $9.99 charcuterie kit in a clear plastic box and present it on your own plate. It’s made by Columbus Craft Meats, and includes olives, Italian dry salami, dark chocolate-covered cranberries, white cheddar cheese, Calabrese salami, and yummy pizza crust crackers.
How to Choose Items for Your Charcuterie Platter
Ready to make your own cheese board with all the fixings?
Heap on the Cured Meats
These can get pricey if you’re not careful.
Common charcuterie board meats include prosciutto, Genoa salami, pepperoni, pancetta and soppressata, a leaner Italian salami.
Prosciutto disappears from the board first and it’s the most expensive, but get it when your budget allows.
Pepperoni and salami generally yield more pieces per dollar. Explore what pairs well, and ultimately get whatever gives you the most bang for your buck, or taste buds. People will eat it regardless.
It’s good to have about four cheeses on a board with a variety of soft cheese and hard cheese from mild and medium to sharp.
You can’t go wrong with mozzarella, goat cheese or a white cheddar. They’re all affordable and have agreeable flavors compared with pungent cheese, most notably blue such as Italian Gorgonzola and English Stilton. But if those are your jam — add ’em — along with a drizzle of honey.
To get the most fromage for your buck, buy cheese by the block rather than sliced. You can also use the block with a grater and further save on the cost of pre-packaged shredded varieties. (Prepackaged grated cheese also has more preservatives and additives to keep the shreds from sticking together.)
Try to include a goat or sheep cheese for those with milk intolerance, but it really depends on your situation. Don’t fret too much over getting the best cheeses. Buy what you like — and do a taste test if you can! — or grab what’s on sale.
Now Add the Fresh Fruit, Mini Pickles and Personality
This is the fun part because anything goes (short of barbecue ribs). The “side foods” are what make your plentiful charcuterie platter much more than a humble cheese tray.
Complement sweet with savory to delight all palates. Add mixed nuts, jellies, mustard, pickles and olives to the array.
Fruit is a must. If you use grapes, cut the stems ahead of time with a pair of scissors so that your guests can pick up two to four at a time and not have to wrestle them free. Strawberries are starting to be in season in the south and other warmer states so they are plentiful and well priced. The berries will be at their peak in June and even July in the north. Kiwi is also very colorful and easy to serve in slices.
When you are making a board on a budget, start with things you have on hand like candied nuts, banana chips, pretzels, cherry peppers, honey or cucumbers. You can always stock up on inexpensive charcuterie board items from grocery stores that will keep for a while so you always have some components on hand.
Don’t forget fresh bread and/or crackers — gluten free crackers are a nice touch for your guests.
Here are a few more affordable items to keep on hand for your charcuterie boards.
Trader Joe’s Shopping List
- Trio pack of dried apricots: $1.49
- Individual packs of chocolate covered almonds: $1.29
- Fruit leather for creating letters and shapes with knives or cookie cutters: 49 cents
To personalize a charcuterie board, you can spell out someone’s name with fruit leather or cut out a heart, candles or any shape to place on top of a round of cheese.
A Great Cheese Board Needs Great Presentation
The charcuterie board ingredients you choose give your creation personality and distinguish it from an average cheese plate. So do the serving utensils and the board on which you serve your delicious spread.
You can find distinctive cheese knives, tongs, sugar shells, pickle forks and baby silverware at thrift stores and estate sales for a bargain.
You can also find a large cutting board or an old-school turning Lazy Susan the same way. Scout stores such as Ikea, HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx and Tuesday Morning for a wooden board in any shape and size.
Arrange Your Cheap Charcuterie Board to Look Expensive
There’s an art to arranging a charcuterie board, and you’ll get better with practice. Prep time is minimal, and there are really no rules. But here are a few helpful tips for preparing a delicious board.
- Prepare and pre-cut ingredients at home, but assemble the board at your destination. An arranged charcuterie board won’t travel well.
- Place bowls, ramekins or short glass jars holding jams, spreads or olives spaced apart on your charcuterie plate.
- Lay out whole fruits or blocks of cheese.
- Arrange sliced meats and cheeses in circles, rows or semicircles. You can overlap, stack or spread out your masterpiece. It’s your creation, and there’s no limit to what you can do — aside from physical space. (Layering can make it appear more bountiful, but may not appeal to those with dietary restrictions.)
- Fill in open spaces with smaller groupings of items such as dried fruit, chocolate almonds or stuffed olives.
Contributor Katherine Snow Smith covers ways to make money, save money and other topics. Her work has appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Charlotte Business Journal and Greenville (S.C.) News. She is the author of” Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps & Lessons Learned.”